NEW YORK As his band burst into the chorus of the moody thunderstorm "Trust" at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Tuesday, Sevendust vocalist Lajon Witherspoon paced in a circle stage right while bassist Vinnie Hornsby copied the motion on the other side of the stage. (Click here for photos.)
Then, as they blasted out the staccato machine-gun riff of the song's midsection, guitarists Clint Lowery and John Connolly leapt almost in unison, bending their legs like skateboarders executing formidable stunts. All the while, Witherspoon crooned passionately, sounding like a cross between Mike Patton and Corey Glover, and drummer Morgan Rose countered the melody with cathartic howls of rage.
The multitude of stage maneuvers, vocal acrobatics and guitar firepower could have looked and sounded jumbled or hokey, but Sevendust pulled it off, appearing natural and well rehearsed as they bashed out songs that were both bludgeoning and heartbreaking.
During the show, the band played several catalog numbers, such as the show-opening "Black," "Denial" and the group's first-ever single, "Bitch," but most of the numbers were from the band's latest album Animosity, which Witherspoon didn't hesitate to plug.
"How many of you motherf---ers have our new record?" he asked midshow, and nearly everyone raised a hand in response. "If someone next to you doesn't have their hand up, you make sure they go out and buy it," he replied.
If his plea seems crass or desperate, keep in mind that Sevendust have headlined bills that featured Godsmack, Staind, Disturbed and other multiplatinum bands that have since overshadowed them, and now they're ready for their slice of the nü-metal money pie.
Sevendust have an aesthetic similar to that of many of their peers, but Witherspoon has a background in soul and R&B and the rest of the band is rooted in thrash metal, giving Sevendust a wider berth than many other bands. That diversity, fans say, is what makes their music so appealing, but it could also be what's keeping them from drawing a mainstream audience and hitting that elusive multiplatinum mark.
Several of the numbers during the show began with Rose playing tribal drum parts alone for about a minute before being joined by his bandmates, a nice motif for the set, which varied in intensity from turbulent to tender. "T.O.A.B." was combustible and edgy with an odd meter that caused the main guitar riff to tumble over itself, and "Dead Set" featured a hardcore beat and a speed metal riff.
"Crucified" married a colossal rhythm and wah-wah-infested guitars to naggingly poppy vocals, and "Live Again," the group's next single, combined hooky vocals with moody, textured guitars. As he sang, Witherspoon contorted his face in pain and sporadically pointed at random members of the crowd.
Sevendust saved their current single, "Praise," for the encore, and the crowd responded favorably, stirring the mosh pit into a frothy boil. But the most poignant moment of the night came when Sevendust played "Angel's Son," a ballad Lowery wrote in tribute to Snot frontman Lynn Strait, who died in a car accident on December 11, 1998, at the age of 30 (see "Snot's Lynn Strait Dies In Car Crash"). "We dedicate this to Lynn and to all you beautiful people in New York City, and to anyone who has lost someone because of this f---ed up world we live in," he said. As the band began, a sea of lighters sparked to life and the crowd sang along, almost drowning out the delicate guitar parts.
During moments like these, the audience was locked into the emotional grasp of the band and swaying with empathy, but it wasn't so compassionate during opener Gravity Kills' set. The group's brand of Nine Inch Nails-influenced melodic industrial metal went over like a fur coat salesman at a PETA meeting.
Gravity Kills played songs that spanned their entire career, from their 1996 self-titled debut to their new album, Superstarved. But even "Guilty," which was a minor hit in 1996, failed to move the hostile audience. After Gravity Kills' third song, the crowd responded with a field of middle fingers, and things only went downhill from there.
Halfway through the show, chants of "you suck, you suck" began to erupt, and by the end, vocalist Jeff Scheel had been pelted with a water bottle and splashed in the face with someone's unwanted beverage.
Gravity Kills didn't fail for lack of trying. Guitarist Matt Dudenhoeffer earnestly played a crunchy array of metallic riffs, Scheel sang with determination and keyboardist Douglas Firley performed with drama and flair, bouncing forcefully on and off of his instrument, which rotated freely on a hinged stand.
The first band to take the stage was Flaw, who played a melodic style of nü-metal that overlooks hip-hop vocals in favor of emotive singing and blustery guitars. Vocalist Chris Volz sounded pained and misanthropic, and guitarist Jason Daunt played a variety of angry tones while the rhythm section of bassist Ryan Jurhs and drummer Chris Ballinger gave the band a hearty rumbling groove.
The brooding atmospheres of songs like "Reliance" and "Whole" sounded vaguely like Tool, while the down-tuned guitars of "Inner Strength" gave the band a sludgy, sinister vibe. The best-received song of the set was the group's current single, "Payback," which blends percussive guitar might and atmospheric noise with eerie, enigmatic vocals.
Read about all of the shows we've recently covered in Tour Reports.